An apocalypse to end all apocalypses
In this highly-anticipated performance, British Asian dancer-choreographer Akram Khan makes his last appearance in a full length solo last night at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Amongst low lying stars, Khan delivers an elegy for the world while percussionist BC Manjunath and singer Aditya Prakash gradually fill the room with a classical Indian lament that soon transported us on a journey to the wake of World War One.
The set up was at times inviting as is any abode, other times it quickly turned ominous. Often shifting between Kathakali and contemporary tecniques, Khan plays the wistful soldier as he tumbles and writhes on the ground that slopes upwards towards a lip of an intimidating trench, not unlike those at the frontline of battle. At one moment, all his material possessions are pulled away from him before his eyes, into the abyss of darkness behind the trough. He resists and reaches towards the menace, disappearing soon after into the shadows.
The sweeping sounds of the earth become a bellowing echo of one’s inner turmoil and the stage transforms into the edge of the world with Khan at the centre of its precipice. He performs a laborious soliloquy that strikes a fine balance between an inquisitive playfulness and a more sombre compliance. Where a guiding light repeatedly becomes a dystopic surveillance ‘eye’, there was a seething menace throughout Khan’s search for his own escape and liberation amid the haunting shadows of World War One.
Do not think this is war. This is not war. This is the ending of the world.
Xenos, which translates to ‘foreigner’ or ‘stranger’ in Greek, is an apocalypse to end all apocalypses. From the onset, Khan already warns us in a big brother voice that speaks to us at the beginning: “Do not think this is war. This is not war. This is the ending of the world.” In a blistering 65-minutes solo, Khan dances the struggle of the everyman – the Otherman – one that is so desperately individual as it is universally relatable. Xenosis the grand summation of our emotional volatility for the wars before that had broken men and in a peculiar way, the war of our post-truth today. Through the pulsating movements, both physically and musically, it is altogether hysterical, melancholic, desperate, passionate and hopeful.
Along with 5 world-class musicians and Khan’s other interlocutors (from lighting design to stage), Khan’s requiem for a post-war dream is William Blake’s ‘Auguries of Innocence’ personified: In the nameless soldier’s wrestle between pain and freedom, hope and desperation, we see the world in a grain of sand, and Heaven in a wildflower; hold infinity in the palm of [our] hand, and eternity in an hour.
XENOS — Akram Khan Company
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
29 May – 9 Jun 2018